Forbes’ Folly: Defeated Congressman Takes Another Potshot At Church-State Wall

Last week we reported that U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) a longtime ally of the Religious Right, had lost his primary election and thus will not be returning to the Congress.

Forbes has decided to go out with a bang. Over the weekend, he published an opinion piece in a Virginia newspaper attacking the separation of church and state -- again.

To hear Forbes tell it, “religious freedom” is under attack because aggressive fundamentalist Christians can’t force their religion onto the rest of us at every turn.

Forbes begins his column with a tale of woe: Joe Kennedy, a football coach at a public high school in Bremerton, Wash., was told to stop praying with students after games. Forbes believes Kennedy’s rights were violated.

Rights were violated, all right – but they weren’t Kennedy’s. Kennedy violated the rights of students and their families by pressuring them to pray with him. I’m sure that he knew what he was doing was wrong. After all, the Supreme Court struck down coercive forms of prayer in public schools 54 years ago.

From there Forbes goes on to discuss the Little Sisters of the Poor case, a legal case that made its way to the Supreme Court and that the Religious Right has distorted beyond all recognition. We’ve discussed this case in detail on this blog and elsewhere, but here’s a quick recap: it’s a dispute over health insurance for birth control. The Little Sisters own a chain of nursing homes and don’t want their employees to have access to contraceptives, even though they wouldn’t be required to pay for it and it would be provided under a separate plan.

These nuns want to deny birth control access to the thousands of employees who work for them, many of whom don’t follow Catholic doctrine on birth control. (Let’s be honest here: Hardly anyone, including devout Catholics, follows church doctrine on birth control these days. Birth control is an important component of women’s healthcare, and at some point, public policy has to bend to reality.)

Forbes also complains about “political correctness” – a term the far right employs whenever it lacks an actual substantive argument.

The soon-to-be-former congressman wraps up with this line: “For me and many Americans, faith isn’t something we do; it’s who we are.”

Great! I would never dream of stopping Rep. Forbes from going to church, reading the Bible, believing what he wants or praying in the manner he sees fit. That’s real religious freedom.

Real religious freedom includes the right to pray -- or not -- as you see fit.

What Forbes is talking about in his column is something else. He wants school officials and public school teachers to have the power to impose their faith onto minors. (But he doesn’t really want that. He wants it only for Christians who agree with his theological views. If a non-Christian teacher started preaching to kids, he’d hit the roof.)

He wants a boss to have the power to deny employees access to needed medical care because it offends the boss’s religious views.

In short, Forbes wants to use religious freedom as an instrument to control others and make them conform to beliefs that he has decided are true – but that many others don’t accept

No thanks. We’ve been down this road before. It’s not real religious freedom.

We’ll take the real thing – religious freedom as an individual right that rests on a wall of separation between church and state. Rep. Forbes has spent more than two decades trying to undermine that wall.

Next year, he’ll no longer be able to do that from a perch in the U.S. Congress.